SHANGHAI: China was the road to the future for foreign brands at the Shanghai Auto Show on Tuesday who are racing to catch up with Chinese competitors in the crucial electric vehicle market. EVs now make up one out of four car sales in China, the world’s largest car market, and dozens of new models from domestic and Western brands were unveiled at the first auto show since the end of China’s COVID restrictions.

Local brands command 81 percent of the EV market in China, according to analysts at Counterpoint Research, and industry titans such as BMW were at pains to emphasize the importance of doing business in China. “China is the place to be,” BMW executive Frank Weber told a news conference. “Munich is where we come from, but China is where we are at home.” He said almost 70 percent of BMW’s newest operating system involved functions specific to the Chinese market, and that it had tripled its research and development there in the past three years.

“What moves Chinese customers today will move the world tomorrow,” another BMW executive, CEO Oliver Zipse, told the audience as he showed off the i Vision Dee, a color-changing electric sports sedan. Volkswagen Group said in a news release its brands would present 20 electrified models, with the Volkswagen ID.7 and new Cayenne Porsche getting their world premieres. “With its high level of innovation, China is an important pacesetter for the entire automotive industry,” the release said. “A strong position in China strengthens our global competitiveness.”

Mercedes Benz announced it has fully electrified two classic models, the off-road G-class and its Maybach SUV. Elon Musk’s Tesla, the biggest seller of electric cars globally, is not attending and a representative did not say why it was a no-show when contacted by AFP. Domestic champions look West Opposite BMW in the exhibition hall, China’s BYD unveiled a series of new electric models that included a supercar from its high-end Yangwang brand. BYD is catching up on Tesla’s primacy fast—it almost tripled its sales to 900,000 cars last year—and intends to develop further in Europe and North America.

It already has a foothold in the European market with a presence in Norway and other Chinese brands are also looking to expand west. Zeekr, a premium electric brand owned by Geely, confirmed it would enter the European market. “Europe for us is a very important region,” Spiros Fotinos, its Europe CEO, told AFP. “It’s a mature yet complicated market as we prepare ourselves for global expansion... that gives us a headstart in entering other regions as well.”

This year is the first time most international executives have been at the Shanghai show, one of the industry’s most important, since 2019. “It’s amazing to be back here,” Fotinos said. “You see the enthusiasm and the excitement and the sheer number of people who are here today. Clearly people have missed this opportunity.” – AFP